Love is a force of nature’, thus went the tagline of Ang Lee’s 2005 film Brokeback Mountain. As a 16-yearold watching the film, I was more interested in the bit where the two male leads would kiss. When the story finally came to that, it was no more about the gender of the people kissing. Rather, it stays in my memory as one of the most lyrical films I have watched on the subject of love and therein the tagline comes in handy. Though touted as a film on homosexual love then, the movie was not the first time I was being exposed to the concept of homosexuality. Oddly enough, lesbian porn was already a topic of interest among us. This was over a decade back. Now with children as young as 10 having access to WhatsApp and internet, the avenues of finding information that might be tagged ‘adult’ are more numerous than ever.
So it is certainly perplexing to see the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) rate the official trailer of Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh an A to keep adolescents at bay. Even if the argument is steeped in the logic of homosexuality threatening the fabric of the family, how can the cbfc really keep children away from googling words like ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’? At a time when Article 377 — criminalising ‘unnatural’ sexual intercourse bringing homosexual sex under its purview — is once again in the cusp of a legal debate, the simple disclaimer about the Article at the beginning of the official trailer of the movie must have surely made the cbfc people jump in their seats.
However, the act of censoring a trailer that does not even carry ‘explicit’ visual imagery did not go down well with the vocal lgbtiqa community of the country. Mehta has been doing the rounds promoting his film besides waging a tiring war with the Censors. He says, “Clearly, the general mood amidst the public is that Article 377 should go. But there is a lack of political will. It is unfortunate that we have a majoritarian government where they don’t recognise the demands of the majority.”
The controversy around Mehta’s film, which is based on the real story of the wrongful persecution of Prof Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras because of his sexual orientation brings one to the simplistic treatment of homosexuality in Bollywood. A friend recounts her experience of having gone to watch Deepa Mehta’s Canadian-Indian production Fire in the winter of 1998 and being flabbergasted by it. The story of two sister-in-laws finding love and comfort in each other within the constraints of a patriarchal household, the film earned the filmmaker and the lead actresses, Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, acclaim abroad and brickbats home. All for daring to show two women make love on celluloid. Though awarded an adult certificate, the film was attacked by orthodox religious outfits in different parts of the country, who also took offence to the fact that a ‘lesbian’ character could be named Sita.
A few years later, came Onir’s My Brother… Nikhil that touched upon the topic of homosexuality within the larger context of aids awareness where Sanjay Suri’s eponymous character contracts the disease. Onir, the film’s director says he faced no issues with the cbfc who cleared it without any cuts. While aids must have been a bigger priority than the portrayal of homosexuality, not all films on the subject have such experiences. Sridhar Rangayan’s Gulabi Aaina banned in 2006 was an earnest attempt at weaving a sensitive narrative on the portrayal of transgenders and homosexuals on screen. Riyad Vinci, a filmmaker, never submitted his short film Bomgay which was an examination of homosexuality in the urban backdrop to the Censors for certification because he was certain it would not be cleared.
While mainstream Hindi films are replete with examples of male camaraderie with Sholay becoming a cult classic where one friend dies for another, when it comes to romance between men and women, they generally treat these subjects with kid gloves. Either it takes the route of popular films like Kal Ho Na Ho or Dostana where homosexuality becomes a standing joke or it is given a sensational treatment as Madhur Bhandarkar has been doing since his Page 3 days.